Interview with Alexandra Boivida and Heike Hartrath.

Mercedes-Benz Pride

"Everyone should be able to be themselves".

Mercedes-Benz fosters a diverse workforce, values the uniqueness of each team member, and is committed to an inclusive corporate culture and equal opportunities. But what does this mean in everyday work - how does it feel, for example, to be open about one's homosexuality in the company?

We spoke to two colleagues who came out many years ago. Heike Hartrath, Business Partner in the HR area for Own Retail in Germany and in Europe as well as Mercedes-Benz Sales Germany in Berlin, and Alexandra Boavida, Head of Marketing & Sales in South Africa. In the interview, they spoke to us about the reaction to them coming out and why it is important to be true to yourself.

Heike Hartrath.
Heike Hartrath.
Alexandra Boavida.
Alexandra Boavida.
Heike Hartrath.
Alexandra Boavida.

Heike, Alexandra, when did you come out in your work environment? What were the reactions?

Heike Hartrath: I used to work at a university. There, my sexual orientation was not an issue. When I joined the company at the end of the 1990s, I had to deal with this for the first time. A friend advised me at that time that I should not immediately say that I am a lesbian since the company was conservative. I initially followed this advice. I invented Frank, a fictive significant other, to be able to chat about my weekends and holidays. Things went on like this for about nine months, and then I asked myself "what am I doing?" I'm happy with myself and my life. I don't want to have to hide this away. From then on, I told people with whom I was close to at work that I lived together with my partner, who is a woman. The response from everyone was unanimously: "Oh. And?" It simply was not an issue for them.

Alexandra Boavida: It was a similar story for me. When I started my career many years ago outside of Mercedes-Benz, homosexuality was an absolute taboo in society. At some point, when I got to know people better in my work environment and came to trust them, I came out to them. Over the course of my career, I have worked for a wide range of companies. The thing that these companies all had in common was their values and moral standards, which represented mine – for example regarding diversity and equal opportunities for all. I chose these organisations as they allowed me to be myself and not compromise myself for a career. I don't think that I would survive in a company that doesn't have these values. When I was still working in retail within Mercedes-Benz, there were customers for whom I knew that my homosexuality could be an issue, which is a reality outside of the corporate structures. There were times when I was asked about my husband and my answer would be representative of the individual I was speaking with, as it was “the right thing to do”. I however got to a point where I decided to answer the question depending on how I was feeling on that day, as sometimes I didn’t want to have to come out for the tenth time unknowingly.

What is your advice to those who would like to come out?

Alexandra Boavida: Even if it appears difficult, I really believe that it is important to be authentic to yourself. You must be happy with the life that you have chosen. And if you are not happy, then you must do something to change that. It is important to be brave for yourself and make this decision sooner rather than later. If you do not live your life as you want to, then you will pay a higher price for this in the long run than if you dare to take the step and come out.

Heike Hartrath: This would also be my advice. If you know what you need to be happy, you should not let anyone stop you from this. Whom I fall in love with is my greatest private happiness. Particularly in the work context, it is no one else’s business. But there are of course always persons who feel the need to add their two cents worth from time to time. There are two responses here from me: Either I see through these people, or I give a quick-witted reply. If you often only come up with quick-witted answers after the fact, it can help if you have four or five answers ready. They do not have to fit one hundred percent. As that what the other person has said is also not right.

Mercedes-Benz has this year again committed to a large number of Pride Parades. Are you going to be participating in a parade?

Heike Hartrath: I am something like the "Granny of CSD". (laughs) Over ten years ago, we said that we must participate as a company and show solidarity – after all, it is a political demonstration. We were then one of the first companies to participate in Christopher Street Day in Berlin. That was a major event. Since then, we have as a company been part of the parade every year. This year, I will be up on the truck again.

Alexandra Boavida: I will be part of the parade in Johannesburg South Africa as I do every year. When I joined Mercedes-Benz eleven years ago, I campaigned for wrapping some vehicles in rainbow colours for the Pride Parade. During the last parade that passed directly in front of "my" dealership, there were seven Mercedes-Benz vehicles wrapped in rainbow colours and all our people leading the way in the front, this made me so proud! I am ecstatic to work for a company that flies the rainbow flag and embraces diversity and inclusion on all levels and is proud to shout it to the world! We should always speak up for diversity. As it is together that we form this successful Mercedes-Benz team. Particularly because we all think differently.

What do you wish for queer employees in the company?

Alexandra Boavida: That things continue to progress in the way they have to date. That every person can be themselves. And that we continue to transform and embrace the world at large in every way!

Heike Hartrath: I can only agree with Alexandra. I would not still be in the company after 25 years if I did not experience things this way.